Self-control may be contagious

By Tom Nordlie • Published: April 23rd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s easy to be influenced by other people’s behavior.

That’s a lesson most of us learn in childhood, when friends tempt us into trouble.

A new study suggests we can also be influenced to resist temptation, if someone sets a good example.

And they don’t even have to encourage us to follow their lead.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, describes several experiments.

They all used sneaky methods to examine whether self-control is contagious.

In one experiment, volunteers were divided into two groups.

Each group observed several people who were offered food… a combination of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and carrot sticks.

In one scenario, the snackers ate only the cookies. In the other, they ate only carrot sticks.

Afterward, both groups of observers took a test where they had to identify words flashed briefly in front of them.

The test was designed to be confusing, and required mental focus… an aspect of self-control.

The observers who had watched snackers eating carrot sticks performed much better than their counterparts who’d seen snackers eating cookies.

Apparently, the improved performance was the result of enhanced self-control. In other words, observers were inspired by seeing snackers resist temptation.

That’s intriguing, to say the least.

It seems there may be a lesson here.

If you’re trying to tame bad habits, or cultivate good ones, try spending time with people who always do the right thing.

The old saying goes, we are known by the company we keep.

Perhaps well-chosen company can keep us out of trouble, as well.